Dancer Dee Dee Wilde and her friends in Pan's People were an integral part of Top of the Pops for more than a decade. As the show gets ready for its final broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday night, Dee Dee, of Steeple Ashton, has writes about fond memories of the landmark pop programme.
On the 30th of July 2006 the BBC's most successful and long standing tv show Top of The Pops will transmit it's very last programme. After 42 years and 6 mths of continuous service to the pop world it will be no more. In it's heyday no other music show could surpass it for popularity, content and the powerful exposure it gave to those who appeared on it. The viewing figures alone were enormous, sometimes 17 million.
No wonder every would be star was desperate to be included in the programme, for very often a slot on this show meant over night success.
As TOTP takes it's final curtain on Sunday for many it will be a sad day but for it's critics the consensus is, the show has had it's day and needs to give way to progress. I too think one should move with the times but as the sun sets on TOTP many artists will be remembering and recalling those halcyon days and how they rose to fame through performing on this now iconic show. One of those artists will be me, as I was there, not just for the occasional performance but every week as part of TOTP's resident dance group, Pan's People.
Although TOTP started on that fateful day all the way back in January 1964, for myself and the other girls opportunity came knocking on the door 4 years later. And when it did, nothing can really describe the feelings we felt, when as a group of impoverished dancers working all hours of the day, we finally made it on to TOTP.
Pans had actually been formed 18 months prior to this.
It was Christmas time and The Beat Girls, as we were known then, had just walked out of their head quarters,The Dance Centre in Covent Garden for ever.
A dispute with our former manager had made us take this drastic action. That particular evening, December 8th 1966, Flick Colby who was to be our new choreographer, Babs Lord and I, sat up all night reforming the group & creating a new name for it. Pan was the god of dance so we naturally became Pan's People.
In the early days getting established was hard work. Nothing at all was happening in England but we kept going, dancing on obscure monthly tv shows in Europe.
It wasn't until 1968 that things really changed for us.
Around April of that year as spring arrived, we were practising in the annex of the White House Hotel, our regular rehearsal space in Earl's Court. Tamala Motown's distinctive sound was belting out when David, an ex RAF commander & proprietor of the hotel popped his head round the rehearsal room door and said in a nonchalant way.
"Virginia Mason, the choreographer for TOTP is here tomorrow auditioning dancers for the show. She needs two girls for the programme next week. Just thought you'd like to know!"
With a cherry wave he was gone leaving an enormous hiatus in the air!
On the following day feeling terribly nervous we all turned up on mass at the audition. It had already been decided, after much discourse, that although we always danced as a unit this was an opportunity too good to miss. Hopefully one of us would be chosen and a get a foot in the door at the mighty BBC.
We did better than that, for in fact both Ruth Pearson & myself got the job.
The TOTP studios were situated on Goldhawk Rd, in Shepherds Bush. And here we were, part of it, even if it was for only one day.
On the studio floor camera rehearsal was over. Our dance number, a safe, up tempo, little ditty called Simple Simon Says by the strangely named 1910 Fruitgum Company was put on hold till later, and our costumes, white knickerbocker outfits which made us look like milk lollies on sticks were back on their respective hangers. I remember feeling disappointed: Pan's raunchy routines and more trendy costumes would have been far better. But we were grateful we'd made it this far, and anyway, Ruth and I were planning to change the situation!
Luckily for us we didn't have to wait too long because opportunity came strolling through the door in the shape of Colin Charman; a director at the BBC.
Ruth recognised him instantly; back in 1964 The Beat Girls had worked with him on a series for BBC TWO called, Beat Room.
After introductions all round Ruth & I propelled Colin towards the bar and begged him to give us a chance to show what Pan's People could do. When the recording was finally over we headed for home, but not before a few more bevvies and a promise from Colin to give us a ring if he needed dancers.
Colin was as good as his word for three weeks later we got that fateful, all important call. Were Pan's People available at short notice to do the show the next day?
He only required three girls, were we interested?
Even now 40 years later, I still remember the exhilaration and excitement at this news. To say we were all ecstatic was an understatement. It was indescribable.
That first show was a special memory for me as I was one of the three participating girls. Again through unanimous decision, (all our planning was democratically done,) the obvious choice was Ruth & I because we'd already been there, and the other should be Flick, our choreographer. The remaining girls were very good about this and accepted it.
Meanwhile back in the studio at TOTP three young dancers stood trembling with excited anticipation as the music started for their dance spot.
The last 24 hrs had been a whirlwind of activity and such little time to achieve what we wanted. Speed was the name of the game. A costume was sorted out; calf length boots were given a whitewash; skimpy tops & minis ironed out and our hair, one of our trade marks, was left to fly free. There was no time to devise a completely new routine so Flick adapted the steps from a number we had recently done in Belgium. With a few minor changes "Respect' by the fabulous soul singer Aretha Franklin seemed to fit the bill. We're often asked what was the number we did on that first recording. No one can remember but I've always thought it was Young Girl' by Union Gap.
That first show was the beginning of a long and very colourful existence for us girls. Obviously our spot went down well because as three weeks later all six of us appeared doing an Elvis Presley number, You better Not mess With The US Male. The line up on that show was as follows: Flick Colby, Babs Lord, Ruth Pearson, Louise Clark, Andrea Rutherford and myself.
Throughout 1968 after our initial debut Pan's frequently appeared on the show. With each tv appearance it became apparent to us that our popularity with the public was growing: the fan mail was pouring in. The BBC too were aware as their viewing figures shot up.
In 1969 when TOTP moved to The Television Centre in Wood Lane the BBC decided to take us on as a permanent fixture. So began our weekly dance spots.
Pan's People did 8 glorious years on the programme. As young girls we had the world at our feet and the pop fraternity at our elbows. But certain moments and some of the individuals encountered along the way, still stir up all kinds of memories. Experiences such as, the buzz when John Lennon & Yoko were in the studio during their Give Peace A Chance' campaign; watching the Jackson Five with a very young 8yr old, Michael, strut his stuff: being around through Osmond mania and guesting on their show: feeling the electric atmosphere in Studio One when Stevie Wonder, my personal favourite artist, was playing at the piano -live. Each moment was such a total privilege, as was meeting Jimi Hendrix. We were dancing to his number, All Along The Watch Tower' when he interrupted our rehearsal, jumped on stage and kissed my hand!
Meeting the stars, dancing to their music, like the Supremes, Marc Bolan & T Rex, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gorgeous Rod Stewart and the androgynous David Bowie was just one part of working on the show. There were the dramas too: clothes coming adrift on live' shows; girls falling off rostrums into the audience; being a witness to Pete Townsend of The Who trying to smash up the whole of Studio One, and completely missing the 1971 TOTP Christmas special: we were stranded in Mombasa with the Royal Navy & the entire BBC crew plus director! Yes, life was never dull on TOTP even though working 52 weeks a year could have had a certain monotony, but we loved our job & the relationship between dancers and the organisation went from strength to strength. Or so it seemed on the surface.
Of course this love affair with the BBC like all relationships had it's up and downs and it's controversial side.The public never saw the things that didn't always go smoothly and Pan's in particular came up against the system a few times.
In those days The BBC was the most powerful tv station in the world. Once employed by the Beeb you became her property and to stray off the path was frowned on:sometimes it felt like being back at school. For Pan's of course the exposure was terrific: we owed the BBC. It had made us famous but it also had it's drawbacks.
Firstly, it was generally thought of, because we had a celebrity status and appeared on tv every week that Pan's People were well paid. This was far from the truth. The BBC would never recognised us as a group. Each girl was always individually contracted as The dancer' so the fees reflected this. Even at the height of our fame and established as an essential part of the show, the BBC wouldn't budge.
We never got more than the minimum eked out to a dancer. Extra monies had to be achieved in other projects out of BBC hours.
One of these projects embarked on was to record a song with Mike Batt, responsible for the Wombles and more recently Katie Melua. You Can Really Rock N' Roll Me'' on the Epic label was a good choice: Cherry Gillespie who joined us in 1972 was selected as lead singer. It had a powerful tempo and was just right for us. The Pr team were great and a tour up north bought it's rewards. The record was about to break into the charts: perfect for a slot on TOTP, or so we hoped. But to our dismay the BBC flatly refused to promote the song and wouldn't allow us to appear on the show. Needless to say our first attempt failed & the record rolled out of the charts. The group felt this was most unfair as a little while later another BBC dance group, a spin off from the young generation, were allowed to promote theirs. We never did find out why they were given preferential treatment. Even to this day I wonder, if we'd had a hit - would we have achieved chart success like The Spice Girls? Who knows.
But on to other things - I have to say a little something about the anchors on the show, the dj's; they were so much part of our lives. And who better to start with than Jimmy Savile; love him or hate him, he was definitely the most colourful; the nicest was Ed Stewart; the hairiest Dave Lee Travis; the handsomest Emperor Rosco; most consummate positive thinker Noel Edmunds and just great dj's, Tony Blackburn & Alan Fluff' Freeman. God bless them all!
Well that about sums it up, except the other day I found myself down in the Shepherds Bush area at the traffic lights. For some reason when the lights changed green, I instinctively turned left instead of going straight on, and within minutes found myself outside the BBC Centre.
The old place hadn't changed really, there's a new entrance to the right but otherwise much is the same as it was over 4 decades ago. The security guards are still there, though they have little to do as there are no screaming fans. Everything is quiet except for a few ghosts knocking around. As I went past only the memories of the good times came flooding back. Suddenly I had a mental flash in my head of us in different coloured hot pants dancing to the appropriately named Smarty Pants' by First Choice - my favourite number.
What fun we had! We couldn't have done it without the show. So thanks TOTP, I for one will miss you, for you gave us girls a merry dance - one I'll never forget.
Dee Dee Wilde who has two children from her previous marriage, Alex 26 & Poppy 22 moved to Wiltshire in 2002 and lives with composer, Henry Marsh, a member of the 70's band Sailor. She has just started a new business Wilde About Cushions using Adrienne Aitken, a brilliant designer. www.wildeideas.co.uk